Vera: Episode 1 (Hidden Depths) - Review
Review by Jack Foley
ITV is hoping that its new Sunday night crime drama Vera will fill the void left by shows like A Touch of Frost. On the evidence of Sunday night’s opener, Hidden Depths, it could well become the channel’s equivalent to Wallander.
Based on the books by Ann Cleeves and directed with atmosphere and style by Adrian (Mad Dogs) Shergold, the series opener introduced a fascinating new detective into the fold, as well as some intriguing new relationships that seem worth developing.
Brenda Blethyn plays the eponymous Vera… a detective inspector known for her unorthodox, even down-trodden style as well as her reputation for getting results.
She’s an occasionally curmudgeonly figure prone to loud outbursts when things don’t go her way, yet she cares and has a finely honed set of detective skills. In appearance, she could be the female Columbo (complete with dishevelled rain-coat at times!), yet her manner, intelligence and demeanour owe plenty to Kenneth Branagh’s Wallander.
During the first episode, she was a woman coming to terms with the recent death of her father (her relationship with whom was strained to say the least), while investigating the murder of a teenager and several subsequent killings.
Aiding her, meanwhile, was a team of detectives led by her younger male partner Sergeant Joe Ashworth (David Leon), a kind of surrogate son, who served as the ying to her yang.
Leon brought good looks, appealing charisma and gritty edge to his character, visibly holding his own in Vera’s presence, yet also struggling with work-life balance (something exacerbated by the impending arrival of his third child).
While the relationship between the two of them looks set to become fascinating; one that’s built on mutual respect, but one that can be spiky. A fine moment between the two of them at the very end of the episode served to show the protective nature of Blethyn’s character in all things personal, as well as the esteem with which Joe holds her in.
If there’s a problem with Vera, it’s the over-familiar format and the fact that the whodunit element of the investigation didn’t really bring anything new to the genre. Yes, the killer’s identity was fairly well concealed (I had suspicions) but the procedural nature of the story felt sometimes pedestrian.
Fortunately, Shergold’s direction and the strength of the performances provided more than ample compensation. Like Wallander, Vera seems to revel in the finer details of character and environment.
Shot in the North East, and especially the coastal region around Newcastle, this looked disarmingly beautiful at times, as if to offset the brutality of the crimes… yet there was also an ethereal quality to certain scenes and the use of a sparse score that also reminded me of Wallander.
And the characters were so well-defined, even in this first episode, that you didn’t mind spending time in their company – in fact, you wanted to know more.
From Blethyn, of course, we’ve come to expect nothing less and it’s a treat to see a series being built around her talents. But Leon is living up to his billing as one of Britain’s most promising and talented young actors, while strong support from the likes of Gina McKee, Juliet Aubrey and Paul Higgins also helped to ensure that the show held your attention throughout.
So far, so good then…
Vera airs on ITV1 on Sunday nights from 8pm.